By Olivia Overman
If you were to ask somebody where the water they drink comes from or how to properly take care of lawns, trees, shrubs and vegetable gardens, they might not be able to answer you. Fortunately, there are organizations right here in the area to help with all your questions and, more importantly, to help conserve
the natural resources here in the county. Virginia Cooperative Extension Prince William Master Gardeners and the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District, or The District, are two of the organizations that offer assistance and education for county residents.
Master Gardeners of Prince William
MGPW, a 501(c) 3 organization, is the supportive organization for active Master Gardener volunteers in Prince William County, City of Manassas and Manassas Park. Volunteers are the environmental educators that teach residents sustainable landscaping techniques that protect water quality. “Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Volunteers are trained educators who provide the public with environmental
information that draws on the horticultural research and experience of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and Virginia State University,” said Nancy Berlin, Natural Resource Specialist/Master Gardener Coordinator. With more than 200 volunteers, Master Gardeners:
- Answer gardening questions in the Extension office, at local community functions and at local garden centers
- Diagnose and provide recommendations for plant, insect and disease problems
- Promote safe use of pesticides and fertilizers to protect water quality and the environment
- Instruct the community on proper care of lawns, trees, shrubs and vegetable gardens
- Conduct gardening programs for diverse groups of all ages within the community
- Participate in community landscape and stormwater education site visits
- Work with Plant a Row for the Hungry with Vulcan to collect produce at farmers’ markets for needy families
- Participate and organize seminars for continuing education
- Participate in social events and field trips
Programs offered throughout the county include: The BEST Lawns Program (Building Environmentally Sustainable Turf); the ACTS landscaping project that helps beautify the area surrounding ACTS, providing an area of relaxation for residents of the non-profit; and the Audubon at Home program, which helps county residents have their homes certified by the Master Gardeners as an area of conservation. The Plant A Row for the Hungry Project ensures that donated, unsold, fresh produce from the Dale City Farmers’ Market and the Old Town Manassas Farmers’ Market is collected and distributed to ACTS shelter food pantry, SERVE’s food pantry and the House of Mercy, Haymarket.
The Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District
The District is focused on protecting and enhancing the water and soil resources in Prince William by providing free technical services, and assistance and education to farmers, homeowners, students and teachers.
Veronica Tangiri, Water Quality Coordinator at The District, primarily deals with water quality in the urban areas of the county. When dealing with water quality, Tangiri states “There are no boundaries; I cross cities and towns.” Tangiri is currently building a volunteer network to help with programs such as Water Quality Monitoring, Adopt-a-Stream or Pond, and Floatables Monitoring.
Water quality monitors collect data from streams that includes the quality of water and the organisms found in the stream. Data collected is sent to the Department of Environmental Quality by a certified monitor. The Adopt-a-Stream or Pond program covers the 1,100 miles of streams in the county. “We currently have over 45 active sites,” said Tangiri, “including the Occoquan river, which has been adopted by The Friends of Occoquan (a non-profit that helps preserve and maintain the natural integrity of the Occoquan River), Prince William Trails and Streams Coalition (a non-profit that annually cleans up over 25 miles of PWC waterways from Cedar Run to the Occoquan River), Troop 670 (a boys scout troop that adopted over 8 miles of the Occoquan River) and the Belmont Bay Paddlers (another nonprofit that has adopted the Bay area of the River).”
Education Is Key to Conservation
“Four years ago, we had very few volunteers, but in 2018 we had more than 1,300,” said Tangiri. Getting information out there and educating residents about how we can impact the environment is important, and one of the ways The District does this is through educational programs in the county schools. Teaching children about the soil, watershed, pollution, etc., is key to seeing more people getting involved in conserving the water and soil resources.”
Master Gardeners also offer educational programs for volunteers that are key to promoting conservation in the county and can be found at pwcgov.org/grow.
For more information about both organizations and for volunteer opportunities, visit Master Gardeners of Prince William at mgpw.org and Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District at pwswcd.org.
Olivia Overman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer for both online and print organizations. She earned an M.A. in Journalism and Public Affairs from American University, Washington, D.C.